FRANCE 1360 - 1453
Since the beginning of the century, the mighty kingdom of France had been participating, consciously and unconsciously, in the process that modern historians call "the birth of the state". Whether the Hundred Year's War was a cause or the consequence of this, it is a fundamental aspect of French late medieval history.
In 1337, the Capetian line, which can be traced back to 997, petered out with the death of Charles IV, third son of Philippe IV le Bel. There were three main candidates for his succession : Philippe de Valois, nephew of Philippe le Bel; Edward, grandson of Philippe le Bel, and Charles "the Bad", a great-grandson. Charles was excluded due to his age - he was but a baby at that time - for his uncertain bloodline (his mother was reputed a bastard) and because his mother had earlier and expressly renounced to all claims to the throne.
Charles "the Bad" would nonetheless play a key role in French history.
The king of France was still, in this period, but a primus inter pares, "first amongst peers", his crushing military and financial superiority all other nobles not yet the case. In the 14th century, the twelve "Peers of the Realm" were at the heart of the political system. It is they who acclaimed a king, and chose his successor if his line was interrupted or considered inapt to rule.
Edward was the closest male heir, but was also King of England. Could the Peers choose a man who would reunite the power of two kingdoms in his hands ? They apparently could not. Ideology no doubt played its part - the concept of "sovereign kingdoms" had grown in strength since the middle of the 13th century - but power politics were ever-present. Thus was Philippe de Valois crowned, in 1328, Philippe VI of France.
CAN A KING PAY HOMMAGE ?
Things may not have gone further, had Edward III of England not also been Duke of Aquitaine. He owed this title to the complex intermingling of French and English nobility since 1066. The Duke of Aquitaine owed allegiance to the King of France, of whom Gascony was the fief. Gascon lords could therefore appeal to the King of France against the decisions of their Duke, and did not hesitate to do so. As the French state grew in power, so did the numbers of its officers and judges. French legal interventions in Gascony were more and more frequent, especially as the Duchy of Aquitaine occupied a healthy and rich part of French soil.
It is this situation - rather than the formal act of hommage that Edward III of England owed to Philippe VI of France - which was the spark for the Hundred Years War.
THE HUNDRED YEARS WAR
French royal "interference" in Aquitaine had already been the source of numerous wars, including a brief clash in 1324. The long conflict that began in 1337 was, in a sense, just another in a long list, and its name should not hide that it was a series of more or less violent conflicts, punctuated by long periods of peace. On the other hand, the transformations that this succession of wars accompanied and caused in both kingdoms set them, deservingly, apart.
From 1337-1356, the English practice of "chevauchées" - mobile raids which laid waste to the countryside whilst avoiding battle - seriously undermined French popular faith in their nobility. If the nobles were unable to protect the people, by what right did they hold their privileges ? From being protectors, they had become parasites.
Worse yet, each time the English raiders were finally pinned down, they inflicted crushing defeats on the French nobility, despite huge numerical inferiority. Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were massacres. The French king, Jean II, was captured at Poitiers, and the enormous ransom demanded placed additional strain on French society. It was never fully paid.
Upon the death of Jean II, his capable and educated son, Charles V (1364-1380), mounted the throne of France. Charles inaugurated a golden age in French medieval history, and showed a solid understanding of the new-fangled concept of "statesmanship". During his reign, the French armies under the legendary Betrand du Guesclin (d.1380) slowly pushed back their English enemies. The two kingdoms agreed to an uneasy truce in 1389.
THE TORN KINGDOM
Charles' son, Charles VI (1380-1422) was aged only 12 years old at his father's death, and the regency was assured by the "Uncles" - Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Louis, Duke of Anjou and Jean, Duke of Berry - who jostled for power. Tensions were mounting, and the phenomenon of aristocratic "parties" deeply divided French society. Such "parties" were not new, but had never focused identities so intensely. The partisans of different families dressing identically, had their own slogans and developing a solid propaganda machine.
In 1392, the young Charles VI was out hunting when, struck by a vision, he laid about him and killed several of his companions. This was the first of a series of attacks of schizophrenia. During long periods, the King was incapable of government but, worse yet, had long bouts of lucidity. Government could thus never be permanently assumed in his name. For the King was the pivot of French political society and remained so even when barking mad ! Try to imagine the inestimable consequences for the kingdom.
The resulting struggle for power between Philip of Burgundy, leader of the "Burgundian" party, and Louis of Orleans, leader of the "Armagnac" party, slowly plunged the kingdom of France into civil war. Louis was assassinated in 1407, and the first armed encounters occur in 1412.
Both parties sought English help, but when Henry V of England (1413-1422) landed in Normandy it was, initially, to profit from the chaos to advance his own claims to the throne. The French nobility thus marched out to meet him. The Armagnacs made it clear, however, to the Duke of Burgundy (now Jean the Fearless) that his presence was not required. They were destroyed without him, at Agincourt, in 1415.
In 1418, Jean the Fearless seized Paris in a fairly bloody coup d'état, slaughtering many Armagnacs. When he was in turn assassinated in 1419, the "Burgundians" threw in their lot with the English. The civil war began in earnest that year, and was to last until 1430. Helpless before the Anglo-Burgundian armies, Charles VI the Mad agreed, by the "Treaty of Troyes" (1420), to marry his daughter to Henry V of England. The crown of France was promised to their first-born son, and Charles VI disinherited his own son and rightful heir, the "Dauphin Charles".
THE "KING OF BOURGES"
Charles VI and Henry V both died in 1422. Henry VI, King of England and France, was aged but 2 years old. The Armagnacs rallied to the Dauphin Charles, bringing him the lands south of the Loire river, and established his capital in the modest town of Bourges, to the great disdain of his enemies.
They were mistaken to write him off. With Scottish assistance, the Dauphin Charles resisted his enemies from 1422 to 1429. In that year, however, his end seemed close. Orleans, the key to the Loire valley, was under seige. It was at that moment that Joan of Arc appeared on the scene. If senior court figures at Bourges doubtlessly manipulated this 17-year old mystic, her influence on the Dauphin Charles was as undeniable as that exerted on French popular imagination. "Led" by Joan of Arc, the Armagnacs relieved Orleans, and went on to win several battles. Joan of Arc then convinced Charles to ride to Reims and receive the sacred emblems of kingship. This dramatic and heroic "chevauchée", in late 1429, was a great success.
Meanwhile the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Good (1419-1465), was coming to regret his alliance with the English.
English and Burgundian interests were diverging. Henry VI's regent in France, the Duke of Bedford, was hoarding political power in France, whilst his very own brother (and rival) Humphrey of Gloucester, was opposing Philip the Good in a private feud in the Duchy of Holland.
After years of war, Burgundians and Armagnacs agreed on a ceasefire in 1430 and, in 1435, signed the "Treaty of Arras". Though it was a shaky alliance, broken by such events as the Praguerie (1440) and the League of Public Good (1465), it held until Philip the Good's death.
Charles VII began the progressive reconquest of his kingdom, which ended with English defeat at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.
BURGUNDY 1360 - 1467
Medieval strategies of alliance and mariage could build up, in the hands of a single lord - often a close relative of the king - extensive "princedoms" made up of numerous feudal holdings. Hence, in the mid 14th century, Philippe de Rouvres came to be Duke of Burgundy, Count of Burgundy, Count of Artois, Count of Boulogne and Count of Auvergne, not counting his other, lesser titles.
With his death in 1360, without sons of his own, this vast territory was split up amongst his heirs, one of whom was Jean II, king of France. Jean II received the Duchy of Burgundy itself. This was not surprising : he who holds the title of "Duke of Burgundy" is also the most senior of the twelve Peers of France. Duke of Burgundy and King of France were generally close relations, when they were not simply the same person.
During the disaster of Poitiers, in 1356, Jean II's youngest son, Philip was the only one to stand by him. As the English men-at-arms swarmed around his father, the 14-year old Philip famously cried out "Guard your left, father ! Guard your right !" The young boy was himself wounded and captured. It was at Poitiers that he acquired his nickname, Philip the Bold.
Father and son were close, and this bond played a role in 1363 when Jean II named his son Duke of Burgundy. Strategic considerations were also present. France was now overrun with the "Grand Companies", huge bands of roving mercenaries left unemployed by the Treaty of Bretigny (1360) between victorious England and beleagured France. Due to their rapine, communications with the provinces were dangerous and irregular. If the King delegated authority in these regions, it had to be to people that he could trust. His son Philip was undeniably such.
In 1369, Philip the Bold married Margaret de Male, the most sought after widow in Western Europe. He even pinched her from under the nose of the King of England, thanks to a little help from a pro-French pope. In a family without sons, Marguerite would one day inherit the rich counties of Flanders and Artois, and the county of Burgundy.
If there is a Duchy of Burgundy, what is the County of Burgundy all about, one might ask ? Neat question, as it offers an insight into the make-up of a "principality" such as the one that I have chosen to wargame.
Roughly put, feudal lords hold their lands from greater lords, and at the very top of the food chain (except in rare cases) is a King of one sort or another, who, governor of all these lands by the grace of God, is supposed to have dished them out to all these lords in the first place.
The "ultimate ownership" of lands can change, however, most notably through conquest (when this is considered "legitimate") or through common accord. This is what happened to the old region of Burgundy : in 843, the Treaty of Verdun split it down the middle, half of thereafter considered to be in territory belonging "by the grace of God" to the King of France, and half of it to the Emperors.
It was therefore possible to be Duke of Burgundy without also being Count of Burgundy, and vice versa. A lord who came, however, to possess both titles through matrimonial alliances owed allegiance to the King of France and to the Emperor. Woe betide him if these two happened to be enemies...
What is interesting from a wargaming viewpoint is that troops from the Duchy will be culturally "French" whereas troops from the County will be "Germanic".
Sure, sure, but what about Flanders ?
It gets worse. Thanks to Philip the Bold's marriage, the principality of Burgundy would consist of two enormous territorial blocks, but with one clearly separated from the other : see the map below, which shows the final situation in the 1460s.
Flemish culture stood apart from that of its neighbours, and its people had, of course, their own language. And when you think that the County of Artois was part of a larger historical entity called "Picardy", and that Picards also had their own culture, and their own language, you can imagine what a colourful patchwork a Burgundian wargames army can be.
Philip the Bold and the civil war
Despite all this territory, Philip was still "only" a multi-duke multi-count. It is power over the throne of France that really floated his boat. His chance came in 1380, with the death of his brother, Charles V. As Charles VI was still a child, France was ruled by the "Uncles", of whom Philip the Bold was one. The rivalry of the Uncles, exacerbated by the schizophrenia of Charles VI (first evident in 1392), caused the kingdom of France to slip slowly into civil war.
Philip the Bold died in 1404, but his son, the scarily named John the Fearless, pursued his father's political goals. In 1412, the "Armagnacs" took to arms to oppose the "Burgundians" for control of the royal family and the kingdom. Their struggle pauses only briefly for the former (and a fair few of the latter, including Jean the Fearless' very own brother) to be massacred by the English at Agincourt in 1415.
Since the King of England, Henry V, claimed the throne of France, controlling the person of Charles VI and being allied to the English seemed to be mutually exclusive goals. The Burgundians, however, pulled off that feat. After the assassination of Jean the Fearless in 1419, his son Philip "the Good" demonstrated his diplomatic talents by organising the "Treaty of Troyes" (1420). King Charles agreed to disinherit his son (another Charles, called the "Dauphin"), and marry his daughter to Henry V. The first male child springing from the union would, according to the terms of the Treaty, be sovereign of both kingdoms. In return, Charles VI got to keep his throne until his own death (which came in 1422).
The Dauphin Charles was of course unhappy about this. Gathering the Armagnacs around him, he took refuge in the Loire Valley and fought back against the Anglo-Burgundian usurpation of his throne.
Anglo-Burgundian forces were unable to crush him this dangerous rebel, despite victories at Cravant (1423) and Verneuil (1424). They were hampered by a serious lack of political legitimacy. Henry V had also died in 1422, and the long-awaited "king of England and France", Henry VI, was a 2-year old boy, represented in Paris by a regent, the Duke of Bedford. To make matters worse for the English, Joan of Arc arrived just in time to support the Dauphin's cause. Her career was short - she was captured in 1430, handed over to the English with the agreement of Philip the Good, and burned at the stake - but galvanised a land increasingly sensitive to "nationalist" thought.
English and Burgundian views were also diverging. As far as I can tell, although small-scale cooperation continued for some time, Cravant was the last large-scale joint operation. Indeed, in 1424 Philip the Good became embroiled in a pittoresque conflict with Humphrey of Gloucester, brother of the Duke of Bedford.
The resulting "Hooks and Cod" war, fought from 1424 to 1428 over the duchies of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut, was a rollercoaster affair. Love, betrayal, lords running off with their lady's maid and living to regret it, empoisonment, princely duels. Trouble-making Duchesses, disguised as men, escaping from beseiged cities and stirring up even more hassle for peace-loving menfolk. If no budding talent has yet written a novel based on this war, they should do. I would love to make a mini-campaign out of it one day.
In any case, as early as 1431-1432, Burgundian troops were avoiding direct confrontation with the Dauphin Charles (by now King Charles VII, thanks to Joan of Arc), and in 1435, peace formally broke out with the signature of the Treaty of Arras. It was an unsteady peace, and Burgundy and England come close to allying once more against France in 1471, but peace it was.
During this time, Philip the Good presided, until his death in 1467, over a highly refined court society, patronising poetry and art and drawing together fine and cultivated minds many of whom had travelled the world over. Mid 15th century Burgundy was one of the lanterns of Europe, as the Renaissance began to blossom.
Philip also showed a grasp of statesmanship as sharp as that of the greatest kings of France. He was, for example, the founder of the famous "Order of the Golden Fleece". As of 1430, this Order bound together the elite of Burgundian and Flemish nobility, in a bond centred on loyalty to one's soveriegn, and the partaking and defense of a shared values.
If negotiations were opened with the Emperor on one occasion to make of Burgundy an independant kingdom, they appear to have been only half-hearted. Philip the Good was above all, like his father and grandfather, a mighty Prince of France.
ARAGON 1350 - 1450
Medieval Aragon was less of a kingdom than a confederation, made up of three different territorial units, each with its own institutions, culture, and representatives. Customs posts were even placed at crossing points from one territory to another.
The three regions in question were the County of Aragon, the County of Barcelona (or Catalonia) and the vice-kingdom of Valencia and Majorca.
Sandwiched between Franks, Wisigoths and Arabs, the County of Aragon retained its independance until 921, when it was annexed by the king of Pampelune. Upon the death of Sanche III of Pampelune, the County was elevated to the status of a kingdom, and given in heritage to Sanche's son, Ramire.
Until 1177, the Kingdom-County of Aragon was a vassal of its neighbours. At that date, Aragonese troops having given precious aid to the King of Castille in his struggle against the Arabs of Andalusia, the king of Aragon was relieved of his serment of allegiance, and his kingdom made independant.
By then, it had integrated, by marriage alliance, the rich and dynamic County of Barcelona. The history of Barcelona is markedly different of that of Aragon, for its rulers and its people have of all time looked towards France, and the Mediterranean, not Spain.
Doted by Charlemagne after his victory over the Emir of Cordoba in 801, the counts of Barcelona long showed an anachronistic attachment to Carolingian heirs, right up to the end of the 10th century. Only when Barcelona was sacked by the Arabs in 985, without the Carolingians of France having lifted a finger to help, was the spell undone.
If 11th century Christian Spain was deeply marked by the ideals of the "reconquista", the County of Barcelona showed little enthusiasm for the movement. Local identity was reinforced by this isolation, and in 1114, the word "Catalan" appeared in writing for the first time.
When Count Raymond Berenger IV (1131-1162) wedded Petronilla, heiress to the crown of Aragon, leading to the fusion of the two territories, it was Barcelona that imprinted its style and its ambitions on its neighbour. From that time on, the kings of Aragon looked out onto the Mediterranean Sea, and the flourishing port of Barcelona was their primary concern.
Valencia and Majorca
Valencia is one of the multiple taifa that split off from the Emirate of Cordoba in the middle of the 11th century. From 1094 to 1099, it came briefly under the control of a Christian mercenary.
His name was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known by the name of "El Cid".
After the crushing defeat inflicted on Muslim forces at Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), Valencia was virtually undefended. It fell to the Kingdom of Aragon in 1238, a few years after Aragonese troops also besieged and captured Majorca. The taifa was divided up between Castille and Aragon, the Aragonese keeping the eastern half of the old Arab principality.
The Aragonese Empire in the Mediterranean
No sooner has it integrated the County of Barcelona than the Kingdom of Aragon began to look eastwards. After unsuccessful wars in southern France, a fabulous opportunity arose for its king, in Sicily.
In 1266, Charles I, duke of Anjou in France, became an Italian King thanks to his victory at Benevento. He ruled over the Kingdom of Sicily, and the vast Kingdom of Naples.
Having a French lord as ruler was not to the liking of the Sicilian nobles. In 1282, in the uprising known as the "Sicilian Vespers", they massacred their French overlords and called in the man who had married the only daughter of their king slain at Benevento. That man happened to be Pedro III, king of Aragon.
The war of the Sicilian Vespers lasted from 1282 to 1302. Angevine power was thrown off the island and confined to Naples alone. Aragon and Anjou were both expansionist powers, however, and rivalries flared up between them at the slightest provocation. Not until 1373 did Queen Jeanne I of Naples renounce to the Sicilian throne, putting an end to decades of fighting.
Less than half a century later, it was the Kingdom of Naples that became the battleground. In 1419, Queen Jeanne II, whose husband was deceased, had passed the age of fertility and had no successor. The pope - who had been the "guardian" of the throne of Naples since the Norman conquests - unilaterally named Louis III, duke of Anjou, as heir. This was not to Jeanne II's liking, and she adopted, as her son and successor, no less a person than Alfonso V...king of Aragon.
The stage was thus set for another outbreak of Aragon-Angevine hostilities. Fighting began in 1423, but ended rapidly when Alfonso was forced to return home. It was but the half-time whistle. In 1435, upon the death of Jeanne II, Alfonso V returned to Naples to contest the rights of Louis III's son, Rene of Anjou. This war raged not only on Italian soil, but also in Provence, the Anjou family stronghold in the south of modern France, and at that time an independant kingdom.
The final victory belonged to Alfonso V, in 1442. He reunited Naples and Sicily into one crown, known as the "Kingdom of Two Sicilies". Nothing could better illustrate the importance to Aragon of its Mediterranean Empire, than the decision of Alfonso V to displace his court to Naples, conferring his Spanish territories on a viceroy.
Other distant lands...
Although it is too long a tale to be told here, a "Catalan Company" was founded around 1300. Made up of mercenaries from Aragon, and initially in the service of Byzance, this company soon got out of control. It wreaked utter havoc in Mediterranean politics, before ending up conquering the Duchy of Athens. By family links with nobles serving in the Catalan Company, Greece was brought into the sphere of influence of the King of Aragon, until its loss to Florence in 1388.
Aragon and the Hundred Years War
Aragon was also involved in the Hundred Years' War, through the bias of its 14th century wars with its neighbour, Castille.
During the first conflict (1356-1367), the King of Castille, Pedro the Cruel, received English help, under the leadership of the dreaded "Black Prince". In 1367, Aragonese troops defeated their combined enemies at the battle of Najera. A Castillan rebel, Henri de Trastamare, then managed to convince the French to assist his rebellion, and Aragon gladly joined him. In 1369, Pedro the Cruel was assassinated...and Henri de Trastamare turned on his erstwhile Aragonese allies, who now found themselves fighting the French ! Not until 1375 did the long war between Castille and Aragon end. Aragon then joined the French alliance, without contributing much to the war effort against the English.